The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Kahl et al. on US Strategy in Iraq

August 19, 2008

Colin H. Kahl, John A. Nagl and Shawn Brimley argue, in Foreign Policy, that despite much progress, the political situation in Iraq remains fragile. The United States, they contend, should shift from a policy of unconditional support (“the US will remain there as long as it has to”) to conditioning US military security upon political progress.

… Iraq remains a dangerous place—and a number of significant attacks did take place out of earshot during our trip. But overall violence against Iraqi civilians and U.S. and Iraqi forces has fallen to levels not seen since early 2004. And as U.S. forces have stepped down from the surge, Iraqi security forces have started to find their feet. In recent months, the Iraqi Army has conducted successful operations in Amara, Basra, Mosul, and Sadr City (and they are currently engaged in operations in Diyala province). Iraqi security forces now control most of the country. In Basra, a southern metropolis infested with Shiite militias a few short months ago, we were able to tour the entire city in an Iraqi Army convoy accompanied by only a handful of coalition advisors.

Up north, al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) is still deadly. Half of all attacks now occur in and around Mosul, where AQI remnants continue to find sanctuary. U.S. military commanders and intelligence analysts, however, now believe the group has been strategically defeated. AQI remains capable of intimidation, assassination, and periodic spectacular bombings, but it no longer poses a threat to the viability of the Iraqi state. The same goes for Iranian-backed “special groups,” which have been substantially degraded by recent offensives.

Despite the improved security environment, no one in Baghdad, including Gen. David Petraeus, is doing a victory dance (even as a rising number of commentators in Washington do just that). Those on the ground know that because none of the fundamental political grievances underlying Iraq’s ethnosectarian conflict have been resolved, the security gains remain fragile and reversible.

Read the rest of the article. Definitely food for thought, as the saying goes.

website | + posts

Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.